If you were looking forward to the Thirst 2015 festival last weekend, we’re sorry that the cancellation has left you high and dry. No, really. That wasn’t even a pun 🙁
After the cancellation of Future Music Festival Asia (FMFA) and Life in Color last year, we asked if there would ever be another rave in Malaysia… and it looks like our question was indirectly answered.
Thirst 2015, or Thirst: We are All Stardust is a “concept dance music event” which not only brings music from both local and international electronic music artists, but also incorporates “world-class light shows, pyrotechnics, and acrobatic performances designed for a Malaysian audience”. Here’s a video of a closed preview they had in March, and a photo of the performance:
Looks nice doesn’t it? Well, here’s a photo on the day of the event:
After the cancellation of FMFA due to concerns over religious morality and drug use, the Thirst organizers – Future Sound Asia -took extra precautions to ensure that their event played ball with regulations set by the authorities, and things were looking good even though some people had their reservations. Then, the cancellation rumors came in….
As the date of the event got closer, it seemed more and more likely that the rumors were false – until the organizers were informed by the municipal authorities that they were withdrawing the organizer’s permit due to “withdrawal of support from the police” less than 24 hours beforehand.
Serdang MP Ong Kian Ming has been pushing the authorities for an explanation on why the event was cancelled at the last minute. While some questions have been answered, many more are popping up – particularly in regards to the future of dance festivals in Malaysia. Here are five of ours….
1. Are PUSPAL’s artist guidelines of any use?
PUSPAL, or Agensi Pusat Permohonan Penggambaran Filem dan Persembahan Artis Luar Negara (seriously, how did that get abbreviated to “PUSPAL”?) is a government agency that provides guidelines and approvals for all foreign entertainment and film acts coming to Malaysia. For a simpler rundown on these guidelines, click here to head to our other music festival article.
What this means is that any event organizer bringing a foreign act requires approval from PUSPAL in order to proceed. However, this might be a little easier said than done since PUSPAL’s conditions are a little flawed, according to FMFA’s organizer:
“… [W]hen submitting an artist for approval by PUSPAL, we are required to handover passport details, song lists, wardrobes, for them to evaluate. But the challenge is, if we want these items, the artistes’ managements will require us to first confirm the act and pay the artist fee in order to get those information. … So what choice are promoters left with but to take a risk in paying the act upfront first and then crossing their fingers that the approval will come through?
…If PUSPAL decides half way that the act is somehow deemed ‘not suitable’ for whatever reason it may be, they can just pull the plug anytime – even after approvals are given.” – Iqbal Ameer, Livescape Asia co-founder and CEO, in interview with CILISOS
This isn’t just sour grapes because FMFA was cancelled too. Another event producer noted that PUSPAL’s guidelines contain “a lot of unwritten rules” and can be quite subjective – like how a Beyonce concert can be denied for being too sexy while a Mariah Carey concert is okay.
Here are some acts PUSPAL has previously withdrawn permits for (reasons are in the captions):
(Writer not sure if he can use the “A” word)
….and, quite shockingly,
While Future Sound Asia have mentioned that they acquired all the necessary permits, their PR company declined to reply our question on PUSPAL’s approval as they’re waiting to release a full press statement soon.
2. Could the organiser have done anything to prevent the cancellation?
As we mentioned, THIRST 2015 organiser, Future Sound Asia must have looked into every possible reason for the authorities to cancel the event and took steps to address them, including:
- Acquiring necessary permits – Done.
- Drugs – Officers and support from the Anti Drugs Agency and the Narcotics Division.
- Guidelines on underage (below 18) attendees – Steps taken to comply.
- Guidelines on Muslim attendees – Steps taken to comply.
- New JAKIM guidelines – No conclusive answer whether they apply to THIRST at the time of writing. Even PUSPAL says they weren’t briefed about it.
The police had in fact issued a letter to the Subang Jaya Municipal Council (MPSJ) on March 25th saying that they had “no objections” to the event.
However, there was ONE thing that the organizers couldn’t have taken preventive measures against; and that was complaints from the public. After much pressing from Ong Kian Ming and coverage in the news, the police (who initially did not give a reason for withdrawing support) stated that they withdrew their support for the event due to “objections from the public and Selangor lawmakers“.
3. How many complaints does it take to stop a multi-million Ringgit event?
One, apparently. Also, Thirst was estimated to have cost the organizers RM 5 million.
After suspicion initially fell on DAP assemblyman Ean Yong Hian Wah as the person who complained to the police, Noor Hanim Ismail, a PAS representative for Seri Serdang admitted to writing the official complaint letter to the police a day before the cancellation stating that it was “her responsibility as a Muslim to oppose the concert as well as echoing the concerns of members of her constituency“. However she also added that the final decision to cancel it lay with the authorities. As you might expect, her Facebook wall has been very…. popular in the last few hours.
Her letter was also noted to contain a bunch of inaccuracies which include claims that the FMFA and Thirst are organized by the same people (They’re not), that Future Sound Asia were blacklisted by the Sepang Municipal council (They’re not), and that the six people who died from a drug overdose at FMFA were Malay (They’re not). She was also criticized for not discussing the matter with the assemblyman in charge of the area where the event was held.
When we asked Ong Kian Ming if there were any other complaints filed by the public, he said:
“For any event which involves partying, entertainment or large crowds, people will complain. People have complained about the Big Bad Wolf book sale.” – Ong Kian Ming, in telephone interview with CILISOS.
However – and we’re just playing Devil’s advocate here – we wonder if all the blame should be put on Noor Hanim when the police could have investigated her claims before withdrawing support? After all, this isn’t asking someone to shut down their TV, this is asking someone to shut down their RM5million event. But then again, we should probably commend our po-po for their prompt action (within one day) when only 32% of police reports lodged in 6 years between 2005 – 2012 were fully investigated. Clearly some KPIs are being met 🙄
4. Who should foot the bill for the losses?
The question is, what losses are we talking about?
If it’s the organizer’s money (RM 5 million!)…
While there is insurance coverage for event organizers, the premium is noted to be very high. We did ask Future Sound Asia’s PR company if there was insurance coverage for the event but, again, all replies are withheld pending an official press statement.
If it’s a loss of reputation…
Ok, this might be a bit confusing
Livescape Asia – organiser of Future Music Festival Asia and It’s The Ship
Future Sound Asia – Organiser of Thirst.
We’ve made the same mistake before, but difference is, we didn’t lodge a public complaint about it. Noor Hanim might be facing a defamation lawsuit from Livescape, with Iqbal Ameer stating to The Malay Mail Online:
“Evidently, false reasoning has been used to justify an objection and yet another organiser have been made to pay as a consequence” – Iqbal Ameer, Livescape Asia co-founder and CEO, as quoted in The Malay Mail Online.
Although it seems Livescape Asia doesn’t have much to gain from this, we
If it’s a loss of income to the country…
In an open letter to Noor Hanim, Ong Kian Ming argues that there’s a possibility that Future Sound Asia might take legal action against the Subang Jaya Municipal Council (MPSJ) for the last-minute withdrawal of the permits; adding that public funds that should be used for taxpayers would be wasted on paying compensation if the MPSJ lost the case.
What do you see in the picture above? People having fun? A mix of faces and races? Well, yes…. but what we see is a bunch of tourist money being spent in Malaysia.
On a wider perspective, our potential reputation as a concert-canceller may result in a loss in tourism income when foreign guests become less inclined to make a trip to Malaysia for a concert or festival because they won’t know if it might be cancelled or not. FMFA was projected to bring in RM 112 million in tourism revenue alone “had everything gone according to plan.”
Aside from tourism revenue, we’re also looking at a loss of jobs to the rakyat as the growing lack of confidence has also spurred some organizers to move their events to neighboring countries or even to the middle of the ocean to ensure that events are able to proceed.
Speaking of loss of confidence…
5. Are there any other events in danger of being cancelled?
There a few highly anticipated international acts coming in the near future, but we’re not gonna name them in case CILISOS becomes the reason they get banned. Seriously, we’re not joking. The promoters of Erykah Badu’s concert blamed The Star for publishing the picture which got her concert cancelled on the night of the performance.
Let us state that again: A concert was cancelled because a newspaper happened to use a photo that was deemed offensive.
So between the chance that someone could say the wrong thing at the wrong time, one person could launch a public complaint, wonky guidelines from the authorities, and the possibility of JAKIM’s guidelines being implemented, we can’t help but wonder if our next concert or festival outing will be a night of fun or a night spent getting in touch with the organizers for a refund.
Or perhaps international acts can just save us the problems and heartbreak by skipping Malaysia in the future. No artistes = no concert/festival = No problem. We would go on to talk about how things can be made better, but like Thirst 2015, this article has come to an unexpected end.